July 8, 2011

Nothing Beats a Good Designer!

An Interview with Ian Leino

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to enlargenize

Ian, continuing on about some specific designs: I really got a kick out of your piece titled ‘Ironic Slogan’, which in good British seems to take the piss out of the tee-shirt design industry. Was that your intention and if so, were you aiming it at certain design trends or really just having fun with everyone’s’ work including your own?

That's precisely what I had in mind.

It seems like a dozen new online t-shirt shops are founded every day, and most of them are based on the same general formula. I thought then that by creating a design of the formula ITSELF that has been behind so many other designs I was doing a sort of tongue-in-cheek end-run around the entire industry. I enjoy humor in all forms, but have a special appreciation for meta humor like that.

If I had to choose, I’d probably say my own personal favorite design of yours is ‘I Wish I Were’ with the ‘devil’ making snow angels (I shouldn’t say this, but it really speaks to me!!). Can you please walk us through how a design like this comes to ‘be’ from concept to finish?
That design started out as an element of a larger design that was titled “A Cold Day in Hell”. I wanted to show a picturesque snow-covered scene in Hell with a number of rather cute and playful demons enjoying a variety of wintertime amusements from skiing to ice skating to snowball fights. After it was done though, the aspect of the design that people responded to the most was the one demon making a snow angel! So I decided to focus in on that one character to create a stronger impact.

I think we all like the opportunity to step outside of ourselves occasionally and try on different personas. Whether it's wearing a costume at Halloween or even dressing up for a fancy dinner - the way we see ourselves affects how we act. In re-working the character, I wanted to portray the idea of a dark and powerful creature taking a moment to act out of character and enjoy a bit of playing in the snow.

You’ve also done some exciting work for the ‘music industry’ including print projects, promotions, calendars (for both Black Eyed Peas and KISS – well, one out of two ain’t bad!) and more. How did you get ‘in’ to these outlets, which I would think would be really competitive and tough to achieve?
My work for the music industry was actually my first step into the world of free-lancing. I lived in Mobile, Alabama at the time and got some very small projects for Integrity Music, a Christian music label that was in town. I slowly worked my way up and eventually landed bigger projects with better budgets, and they remain one of my best clients.

Between client projects, I started working on tee-shirt designs for sites like Threadless; but before I was ever printed through any of those sites, I used those designs as a portfolio to apply for t-shirt design jobs that I found online. And actually "Ironic Slogan", that you mentioned earlier was what landed me a gig with a band merchandise company doing a couple of car-related designs for Kid Rock. That company was very happy with my work, and kept giving me more projects - mostly shirt designs but also magazine advertisements, calendars and other print jobs.

Also, you’ve even had a few shirt designs make it all the way to sales for The Beatles! Tell us a little how that project came to be?
Once I completed the Kid Rock designs, they tried me out on a few other bands like The Doors, Bob Seger and ZZ Top. After that they approached me about doing some retail designs for The Beatles. I was thrilled to have the opportunity, but intimidated by the sheer volume of Beatles designs that already existed!

After working through a number of concepts I eventually pitched them 2 designs, one of which was approved and eventually sold through The Beatles official store as well as a number or retail outlets.

In terms of your ‘non-Tee’ offers – again including promotions, branding and others – how do these differ to you from either a design approach or even end satisfaction perspective?
These other types of projects allow me to stretch different creative muscles, and keep me from becoming a one-trick pony.

To make a musical analogy - lots of musical artists create 'side' bands in a totally different style from their main band. They may still love their major creative outlet the most, but it's important to be able to create and express ideas that may not fit in with that mode. Print design, apparel, branding and the occasional web work all allow me to take a different approach to a creative challenge, but they offer the same sense of satisfaction when I feel I'm able to communicate the central message of the project - whatever the project is.

It seems that a one man ‘show’ as it were in the active design industry is a busy, perhaps even often laborious task, referring to one picture you posted of a HUGE pile of shipments to be made. How do you balance these ‘operational’ aspects vs. getting the time you look for to be designing, sketching or just in general using your creative talents?
It's a balancing act, for sure, and there are times that a huge workload on one side causes the other to slip a bit. When I have several client projects in the works, it may take me a few extra days to ship orders.

For the most part though, they're fairly complementary. My brain can only work on creative concepts for so many hours at a time, and I find that taking a little time to deal with some of the business side of things often gives me just the break I need to feel refreshed and ready to delve back in to design work.

Even when things start to pile up, I try to find ways of getting things done without bursting from overwork - maybe talking to clients while I'm driving to the post office or folding shirts at night while I watch a movie.

Looking ahead, in what direction would you like to see your business go in the coming moons? Is there a specific area in the design or illustration fields you’d like to get into or even do more work in?
I just finished up my first ever movie poster design and I'd love to get into more of that work! I'd also be interested in working directly with bands on album covers, posters or other projects.

As for long term goals, my sister is a costume designer in the theater, and I think it would be really interesting to collaborate together on creating a full apparel line one day.

Having said that: what’s next for Ian Leino?
Well, I've just released several more products through my shop, plus I'm really enjoying the big response my Facebook fan page has been receiving! Also, in the next weeks and months I have some designs coming out on at least three different websites.

I'm a big sci-fi fan, and I've donated over 50 of my popular "Serenity Sake" shirts and glasses to this year's "Can't Stop the Serenity" program, which shows screenings of "Serenity" all around the world, with all profits going to Equality Now and other charities.

In non-design news, I'm excited for summer so that we can finally put the top down as we drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway! Oh, and I’m definitely looking forward to an Italian vacation that my wife and I are planning for the early fall.


Currently plying his trades from his wonderful surroundings of Asheville, NC (please visit today… and spend all your money while you’re there! My tax refund will be glad you did!), Ian Leino has received critical acclaim from far, wide and any other dimensions you might want to add. As an independent graphic artist, he’s worked with a broad range of regional and national clients as well as well-known brands, including famous bands, and much more. His work on a wide variety of projects is available for your viewing pleasure on his homepage and also via his social media links.

Ian is perhaps best known for his apparel designs that have created a fanatic following that awaits each new design with glee. Seriously, when he runs a freebie contest, his Facebook wall looks like the mosh pit at a Green Day concert (ha! I knew I could get a plug in for these pics!!). His different designs with often poignant or socially relevant themes have been picked up for production by a number of the most popular and competitive online sites including Threadless, TeeFury, DesignByHumans, Woot and many more. Check ‘em out today and also be sure to stop by his shop for out of print designs and other merchandising fun!

Links (ha, get it? Like sausage... never mind...)

Shop (direct orders from artist)

Facebook ‘fan’ page

Flickr gallery


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Ian Leino, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!

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